IPL IV: Not quite Calcutta Chicken Biriyani

Have I ever given the impression that I am a super chef with the golden touch who never goes wrong? Well, this post should fix that.

I have often spoken about my love for the Calcutta styled biriyani. All Calcuttans swear by this biriyani and get xenophobic when it comes to other versions. This is very different from the chicken curry rice that pretends to be 'biriyani' in Mumbai. It was not easily available nearby till recently. You get it at Hanglas at Bandra now. Kirti of Feastguru is the only person I know who makes a Calcutta styled biriyani very well at home. Oh Calcutta and Calcutta Club are other safe bets for Calcutta biriyani at Mumbai.

Spurred by my recent success with making Bengali pulao, I thought that I'll give the Calcutta biriyani shot. Recipe? Pshaw. Hadn't I followed my gut and made a stupendous Thai veg green curry recently? The Knife doesn't need recipes for God's sake.

Coincidentally the Kolkata Knight Riders were playing RCB in IPL 3 this evening. KKR is Calcutta's IPL cricket team owned by a film star from Mumbai who was born in Delhi. If that was possible then why couldn't a U K born market researcher from Calcutta based at Mumbai make an attempt at cooking Calcutta biriyani?

Well, my Biriyani attempt this evening turned out to be similar to the KKR's half baked IPL campaign at the end.

I had begun to conceptualise the biriyani in my head a few days back. Thought I will try it today, I needed a guinea pig. An SMS and the ever dependable 'food commando' Maity Man AKA Soumik was enlisted.I began the marination process while watching the KKR batsmen commit Harakiri in field. HaraKKRee as I FB'd.

I bunged the chicken for ten minutes in the micro. Five minute later I realised that I had forgotten to put the chicken in the micro before switching in on! The micro plate stopped spinning after that. Possibly due to this senile act. I sautéed the rice in ghee and garam masala, added a touch of turmeric, jeera powder, salt and sugar. Layered the same into the now microwave roasted chicken and curd marinate. Switched on the micro again. Figured out that the micro plate wasn't turning. Checked a few times. Saw that the rice wasn't evenly cooked. I stepped out to the drawing room and told K and Soumik, "we are getting there. We will soon know if we need to call in for dinner". I tried adjusting the consistency of the rice by adding water a few times. And squeezed a bit of lime juice as advised by someone. But the Mojo wasn't working today.

All this while our guest gamely waited. The match ended. KKR lost badly. I called the rather famished and anguished Maity Man to the kitchen.

His first reaction when he saw the biriyani was 'what a huge piece of chicken' (True, what's with these dinosaur legs that they sell at Marks these days?) He then looked a bit perplexed and said 'this is how my mother makes it'. Then he began to eat while I clicked pictures. I didn't know what to make of his reaction.

I took a bite and knew the biriyani wasn't quite there. The consistency of the rice left a lot to be desired. the fragrance and taste held promise but were light years away from the delicate finesse of the real thing made legendary by restaurants such as Nizams and Shiraz at Calcutta. The salt could have been a bit more. The potatoes were largely cooked. 'Largely' being the operative word. The chicken pieces were huge and ungainly and left a lot be desired.

My verdict, "It was getting there. BUT definitely not there"

"Er how did you get the even yellow colour (holud) all over? Couldn't that be avoided?" said Maity Man politely looking up for his plate.

"I guess they put dots of turmeric at the end in restaurants. The entire rice takes takes the colour of the turmeric if you add it in the beginning," I said.

Soumik thought for a while and then enigmatically said, "Hmmm like my mother's".

Then after a little more silence, "Did you try putting onions?"

"Do they put onions in Calcutta biriyani?" I replied.

"No, not really. But my mother deep fries onions. Almost caramelises them and puts them within layers of rice," the poor soul ventured.

And then our Maity Man steeled himself and said with a straight face "Very good job Kalyan".

I smiled and said, "No, not one of my best".

A look of relief crossed his face and M M replied "Yes, you can do better".

He quickly finished his dinner. A bemused look on his face. Took a piece from the box of chocolate offered. And scrammed. His parting words as I opened the door "Great job once again. But how do they get those specks of red in biriyani?"

"Food colour added at the end," I answered

."Aah food colour," he said and faded into the night.

"I'll work on perfecting this till next time" I later texted our harrowed dinner guest.

In the true spirit of a 'food commando' he replied back, "I want to be there during attempt number two too". And then he politely added, "maybe you can try cooking it in ghee and mutton stock the next time".

Well all I can say is that is not how we normally treat our guests. And that we are fortunate to have some really good and patient souls as friends.

After days of ignoring a fridge full of chocolates, I looked to the Ritter Sport Fruit and Nut which we had at home to soothe my frayed nerves after the botched biriyani attempt and the KKR defeat.

I looked at K and said that the chicken was too big and that the micro didn't turn leading to the unevenly cooked biriyani. K, who seemed happy with the chicken which I took out from the biriyani for her, listened to me with the same patience with which SRK displayed towards Ganguly after a KKR loss.

SRK had tweeted then:

"this loss was due to toss. the last hitch becos of pitch. time for excuses is over.either we play better or keep being deserving losers".